I failed my quiz. Twice.
That's right. I did. Is it weird that I’m happy about it?
As I raced out of the parking lot to leave the college campus, I reflected on my quiz taking experience this evening. Or perhaps I should say “experiences,” seeing how I took the same quiz twice in a row. I questioned how bad it must be that I scored so poorly, well below the passing mark, and then pondered how on earth it was possible that I got a worse grade on the second go! Yet, as I drove off, I couldn’t help but feel highly successful; quite pleased with myself, even with two failed attempts.
As it is, most of us alcoholics tend to have this feeling of inadequacy in life – hence the reason a lot of us turned to alcohol. Hide the feeling of being not enough, and we’ll do all sorts of things… whether smart, or more often than not – stupid. And it was no different for myself. To boot, school was rather tough on me, so returning to school has been a haunting experience, even with the huge differences between what I remember high school being, and what college apparently is. Nonetheless, the weight has been there, and I’ve had to seriously struggle with some grave issues.
And yes, I do mean grave. Without getting into too much detail, when I was taking the college entrance exam back in November, and I realized my score was lower than I’d hoped, a flood of dark, deep-rooted feelings overtook me with such great force that I was immediately knocked back into the past. I became dangerously depressed as the Clouds of Doom loomed overhead; dark days were ahead of me, and I could feel it down to my bones. Wanting to be non-existent terrorized my mind once again as the feeling of inadequacy, stupidity, and embarrassment flooded my being. I was right back in the place I’d been running from for so many years; I just wanted it to end.
But a miraculous thing happened that exact same day, just moments later; I recognized that old feeling, I acknowledge the old patterns, and I did exactly what they didn’t want me to do—I identified what they were, thought about the power I’d once given them, and then let them go on their way. Now, don’t get me wrong, that took me a while, but I did it, and I’m still alive. But that wasn’t the last time the old self-demons haunted me.
There were a couple of times my demons jeered. “Hey, idiot, just go drive off a cliff. Do everyone a favor.” Or “You can’t do this. You suck. Stupid.” Or “What are you doing here?! You have no right to take up a seat when someone else can be using it.” And that’s where Left Side and Right Side made their mistake. I glanced around the room, counting the empty seats. Many, many empty seats. Yet the teachers were there, countering my dark thoughts with, “We want you to succeed” and “if you’re lost or confused, ask us! That’s why we’re here!” It was strange, because that's not at all how I recalled “schooling” in any sense of the word. So, one could imagine my initial confusion this evening when I realized that, right under my nose, I was witnessing a major change in the guy named Me.
With fervent thought I scribbled on my scratch pad: -(x2)-(b3) + 2/3 divided by exponent yammer jibber holy freaking crap what the HELL was I doing?!... or something like that anyway. Even though I could remember a lot of what I learned in high school, I’d forgotten so much from 25-plus years ago, and this was hard! But I felt like I was doing it! I was doing great!!! “I’ve got this, stupid Past, so shut it, and go away!” I thought to myself.
I clicked Submit.
I held my breath for the eternal two-seconds.
“WTFH?! “ I thought semi-under-my-breath-but-probably-louder-than-it-should-have-been. “No way.” I reviewed the questions.
“Stupid.” Left Side whispered, “You got some wrong.”
“Not just some, a lot.” Right Side ground in.
“You can’t even pass this, man…”
“Oh, bull shit.” I responded. “I can take this test multiple times, I see what I did wrong, so I’m just going to take it again!” I argued back. “Right now!”
"Whatever... Failure." Left Side and Right Sight taunted once more.
But I did, I retook the test right then and there...
... and then…
A bit more unsure, I clicked Submit.
I held my breath for the second eternal two-seconds.
I pulled my glasses from my face, and slightly harder than gently I tossed them onto the laptop, trying not to make a scene in front of the few classmates still around. I couldn’t let them see that I got a worse grade than I did before… no, no I can’t let them see this!
“Why did you think you could do this anyway, jackass!” Right Side chimed, sure to be the first to crack the insults this go around.
“Indeed! Jackass!” Left Side could only agree.
Here’s where things get interesting though, because in my past, I would have begun to cower; lower my head, watch the lights go dim as the air cooled and I descended into the Pit of Despair. But that didn’t happen this time. Instead...
“Wait, wut?” Right Side became aware. “Wait, you’re supposed to slam your laptop shut…”
“… and shove it into your bag, making a big scene!” Left Side finished.
"Ya! And the cussing and swearing!... ???"
“No.” I replied; simple, calm, yet curt. “No.”
I gently rubbed my eyes and forehead with the palms of my hands, reseated my glasses upon my face, and gently closed the laptop. With much calmness and care, I slipped the laptop back into the bag, placed the calculator in its rightful place, and with a pep in my step, I walked out to my car. As I sat down in the driver’s seat, I came to a realization: Quite simply, I was okay with failing that test. Twice. Ya, I was disappointed, but perfectly okay with it. A sense of wholeness and gratitude began to fill my emotions; it was a joy I had never felt after failing a test, no matter how big or small it was. But this evening, I was – OKAY.
Smiling ear-to-ear, I raced (careful, I assure everyone) off of the college campus, all of the way home, just so I could sit here and share this very story. It’s an important milestone for me, because I didn’t have the dark, looming, self-hate hang over my head this time. Instead, I recognized what was going on. I realized what was actually happening, and I responded rather than reacted. I know, I’ve written on reacting vs responding before, but I don’t think it’s ever been quite as exciting to me as it has been this time around. There was no grave desire to be non-existent; no deadly wish upon myself.
Who knows what will happen with future tests, they may be more or less disappointing than this evening’s, but tonight, my learned ability to live right now came full force, and I realized that it was just a passing moment, that I will be okay, and I can always study up and take the test again. I'm learning how to use my recovery tools, in real life.
I’m so grateful that I was able to shake this off, as small as it may have been. It’s an important step in my recovery, and quite frankly, for that – I am grateful!